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Kunstverein Schwaebisch Hall
September 16 - November 4, 2018

The work of Philippe Thomas' agency "readymades belong to everyone"
runs like a leitmotif throughout this exhibition. Philippe Thomas
(1952-1995) came to art in the 80s via literature and was
influenced by media, advertising, publicity and fiction. The artist
first introduced his agency at New York's Cable Gallery in 1987.
His idea was, that with the purchase of one of his works--mostly
photography, but also pictures of barcodes and the like--a collector
would also acquire the authorship of the work.
He basically signed his work with invisible ink and kept his personal name
out of the picture.

Wolfgang Staehle, readymades belong to everyone, 1987

Philippe Thomas addressed one of the central tenets of Postmodernism,
namely the "death of the author." Of course, everything with the
prefix "post" has to be taken with caution, because, what's
pronounced dead, may rise again like a zombie in a horror film. Think
of Francis Fukuyama's thesis of "The End of History" (1992), another
central thesis of post-modernity. It states, that with the victory of the
Western liberal democracies over communism, a historical-political end point
has been reached. However, after the financial crash of 2008, Brexit and
Trump, the political situation of today is everything but settled, and we are
witnessing with dread the rise of populists and autocrats all over the world.

Eva and Franco Mattes, UNITED WE STAND, 2005

Olivier Mosset (born 1944 in Bern/CH) is a child of the 60s, a
motorcycle aficionado who founded BMPT with his artist friends Daniel
Buren, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni. Their historical background
was industrial mass production and so they painted monochrome or simple
duochrome pictures en masse. For example, Mosset painted the same kind of
canvas a hundred times, each one meter by one meter, each with a black
circle on a white background. Sometimes one artists helped the other
produce the work. Mosset and his artist friends still signed their
works, but their mode of production was pretty much removed from the
traditional idea of what a "creative artist" was supposed to do.

Olivier Mosset, Untitled, 1987 (Edition of 50)

When Karin Sander (born 1957 in Bamberg) sends her plain white
canvases ("Mailed Paintings") unprotected via UPS or DHL, the concept is
still hers, but the "work" is done by others--by employees of the
delivery companies, by conveyor belts and dirty delivery trucks.

Karin Sander, Mailed Paintings (192 and 199), 2018

Thomas, Mosset and Sander explicitely or implicitely deal with
questions surrounding originality and authorship. But also these
issues are far from being settled. We will come back to it later.

For the first announcement of this show I used a quote by Robert Smithson:
"Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on
an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits. Artists
are expected to fit into fraudulent categories. Some artists imagine they've
got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold of them. As a result,
they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control."

These sentences read like a appeal for an autonomous art and for artists to
resist the take-over efforts by the market and by curators.

Today, the freedom of art is threatened by two developments:

On the one side, there is an overheated, speculative market. It's not anymore
artists or critics who run the narrative, but Ukrainian oligarchs, American
venture capitalists, European luxury and fashion empire owners, and some
Chinese technology moguls. To speak with Friedrich Schiller, it's coming
down to satisfying the "obnoxious fashions" ("die frechen Moden") of an
insatiable global elite.

Jee Won Kim, Guggenschiff, 2016

On the other side, we are flooded with curated theme-exhibitions,
mostly about some current political topic, i.e. colonialism, migration,
environmental problems, gender politics, or simply stuff coming down
the news cycle. One can argue endlessly about the benefits of political art,
one fact is undeniable: if artists allow themselves to be reduced to
illustrators of a predetermined political topic, which some curator
considers important, then the autonomy of art is dead.

As Theophile Gautier already said in the 19th century:
Art can not have any didactic, moral or utilitarian function. And a
century later, Herbert Marcuse defended artistic autonomy by arguing that
the "political potential" of art can only be found in its form. Art must
remain the last refuge of the auratic tradition. Art must be the "Other,"
neither part of the entertainment industry nor the handmaiden of politics.

The works of Daniel Pflumm (born 1968 in Geneva/CH) are not only a
critique of the world of capitalist commodities and its signs and
logos, but also a play with the many forms of corporate signature,
which he appropriates and simultaneously annihilates.

Daniel Pflumm, Untitled (Mastercard), 2012 (Edition of 5)

Using his country of origin as an example, Christoph Draeger
(born 1965 in Zurich/CH) satirizes the rise of nationalism
with a modified fly swatter, much to the advantage of the
endangered insects.

Christoph Draeger, SHOWMASTER, 2018 (Edition of 4)

Egon Zippel (born 1960) roams the Lower East Side of New York
and, like a cultural street anthropologist, analyzes the signs and symbols of
the urban subcultures. He collects countless stickers and flyers and
recombines them and thus turns vandalism into his art. Egon is the

Egon Zippel, Sexgoat, 2016

The aluminum flip-flop stands for a different kind of autonomy, the
collaboration of artists working together for a given period of time.
This is the recipe of Alterazioni Video: you meet somewhere, be it in
Puerto Rico, Cameroon or on Sicily. The artists get together to make
a spontaneous low-budget "turbo movie" within a week or two, do a
performance or build a make-shift smelting furnace in the "Valley of
the Temples" in Agrigento to make sculptures out of scrap aluminum.

Alterazioni Video, Empedokles' Flip-flop, 2014

As for Caspar Stracke's work in this show, there is a whole
story to tell. It is the history of THE THING, a kind of proto-social
network I founded with a few tech enthusiasts in 1991 in New York.
The point here was to create another form of autonomy by realizing,
to use a term coined by Hakim Bey, "a temporary autonomous zone."
The artists involved in the project sought to disconnect from the
traditional art institutions. Producing material objects
in the traditional sense was frowned upon and instead, we defined
services as artistic work. As a "service provider," THE THING
was about creating and operating an international platform for
artistic discourse. When we moved into a large studio in Chelsea
in 1995, we also turned our new workplace into a temporary
exhibition space. One of those exhibitions, a video group show,
was organized in 2003 by Caspar Stracke. While there, he had the idea
to use the large industrial window with its 80 glas panels as a projection
screen for his own work. He reduced the resolution of various clips from
commercial movies to 80 pixels, which in turn fit exactly into
the panels of our window. The effect was sublime, comparable to that of
a stained glass window in a gothic cathedral, only animated and with sound.
In short, the work had an aura. It was a media work, but--and Walter
Benjamin be damned--the auratic tradition lived on.

Caspar Stracke, Proximity, 2003

Giacomo Porfiri (born 1982 in Milan/Italy) came up with the idea of making
a golden nail, a "nail looking for a picture," and, for alchemical reasons,
it had to be made by hand and of 24-carat gold.

Giacomo Porfiri, Golden Nail, 2018

David Adamo (born 1979 in Rochester/NY) shows wooden sculptures that
enter into a dialogue with the historical wood columns in the
exhibition space of the Kunstverein. Two examples from his
"Eggs" series are presented as well.

David Adamo, Untitled (eggs), 2017

My own works in the show are examples from different periods:
The striped video-painting "Cream of the Crop" (video tape on painted wood
board) dates back to the late 80s, and you can still detect the
minimalist impulses of Buren and Mosset, but the minimalist formalism
is being subverted by the use of found porn video tape.

Wolfgang Staehle, Cream of the Crop, 1990

The projection "The Road" (2011) is a collaboration with Jan Gerber,
who programmed the work. "The Road" was made of 24 small cards
from a 19th century childrens' game that can be endlessly combined. The
number of all possible combinations has 25 digits--in other words, our
solar system will not exist anymore when this movie comes to an end.

Wolfgang Staehle/Jan Gerber, The Road, 2011

More recent works are the "data portraits." In this
exhibition, I included the portrait of Peter Fend (2016). The gouache is
a visualization of gmail data representing Peter's social contacts
and their interactions. I call them "portraits," because the subject
is to a large extent defined by his/her social environment.
Of course, the work also includes a critique of the quantification
of the subject by the ubiquitous digital data collectors. As for the
imminent dangers of this mass data surveillance, just think of the
recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and the revelations of Edward Snowdon.

Wolfgang Staehle, Portrait of Peter Fend, 2016

This takes us back to our initial theme of "autonomous art and the
autonomous subject." Of course, our "digital double," which is constructed
by collected data and algorithms, is a fiction--at least it is more fiction
than what postmodern theorists tried to sell us, namely, that the
subject itself is a fiction. Nevertheless, in the future, the
data version of our self will increasingly influence our lives. Just
imagine the "social credit" system that China wants to implement by
2020. This system combines all existing data of a given person:
consumer behavior, income, medical data, law violations, online
activities, etc. The combined data is then evaluated in a comprehensive
rating system and will thus determine the future prospects of this

In view of this dystopian outlook, strengthening the autonomous
subject and autonomous art is more important than ever. Of course,
absolute autonomy is a utopia. But this utopia must remain the horizon
for any individual striving for independence and freedom.

Wolfgang Staehle, September 2018

(Transcript of speech at Kunstverein Schwaebisch Hall, September 15, 2018.
Translated from German)

Carte Blanche Rede von Wolfgang Schwarzkopf.pdf47.26 KB
Carte Blanche Wolfgang Staehle (Deutsch).pdf69.47 KB